Karen Black, the iconic counterculture actress who appeared in hundreds of films and is known to Criterion fans for her appearances in Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, and Drive, He Said from the America Lost and Found: The BBS Story boxset, passed away Wednesday from complication from cancer. Her death was confirmed on her husband Stephen Eckleberry’s Facebook page. She was 74 years of age.
Black dropped out of Northwestern University to move to New York and study under famed acting teacher Lee Strasburg. She worked in a number of Broadway and off-Broadway roles, and landed her first big film role in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1966 film You’re a Big Boy Now.
She would eventually be nominated for an Academy Award and win a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Jack Nicholson’s dim-witted girlfriend Rayette Dipesto in Five Easy Pieces, and later earn another Golden Globe win for her portrayal of Myrtle Wilson in the 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby. She worked with some of the best directors in the business including Alfred Hitchcock and John Schlesinger, and acted in as well as wrote and sang all of the songs as country singer Connie White in Robert Altman’s Nashville which was recently hinted at in a wacky drawing.
Black was one of the best actresses of her generation and was always a magnetic presence onscreen. She will most definitely be missed. I urge you to read The Hollywood Reporter’s extensive obituary of her here.